ECO Tourism - Azerbaijan
WELCOME TO AZERBAIJAN
Baku, the capital overlooking the Caspian Sea, is fast becoming a boomtown. Once a major stopover on the Great Silk Route, there are many captivating sights to see in this ancient country - Bronze Age petroglyphs, medieval minarets and mosques and Azerbaijan's famous carpets.
Facts for the Traveler
Visas: Visas are required.
Time: GMT/UTC + 4 hours
Electricity: 220 volts, 50 Hz
Weights & measures: Metric
This predominantly Muslim country celebrates most Islamic holidays, especially Ramadan, the month of daily fasting, and Qurban-Bayram .
|1||January||New Year's Day|
|20||January||Memorial Day (commemorates the victims of the Soviet invasion of Baku in 1990)|
|8||March||International Women's Day|
|21-22||March||Novruz Bayrami (Lunar New Year)|
|9||May||WWII Victory Day|
|15||June||Day of National Salvation|
|16||June||Army and Navy Day|
|9||October||Armed Forces Day|
|17||November||National Revival Day|
|31||December||World Azeri Solidarity Day|
Money & Costs
US dollars are widely accepted, though traveller's cheques are accepted only by the International Bank of Azerbaijan. Changing money is fairly easy in Baku and some of the other larger cities, and a few large hotels and restaurants in the capital will give cash advances on credit cards . Outside the largest cities, cash is often the only thing you can use. A tip is expected in taxis and restaurants. Bargaining is also expected in markets.
About a fifth of Azerbaijan's population lives in the capital, the biggest metropolis in Transcaucasia. This handsome city is built around a perfect harbour, Baku Bay, a notch in the underside of the Apsheron Peninsula. Baku and the 70km (45mi) long peninsula enjoy sunny and surprisingly arid weather, spoiled now and then by the gale-force coastal winds called khazri. Baku goes back - back to the Bronze Age and beyond. The heart of the historic city is Ichari Shahar (the Inner City, or Old Town). This is one of the oldest continuously inhabited spots in the country - and in the Middle East. Archaeological digs have revealed Bronze Age burial chambers. When the Greeks and Romans wrote about Baku, they were writing about the Inner City. This is the most popular area of the city, a maze of alleys, dead ends and caravanserais sometimes called the 'Acropolis of Baku.' One of the most impressive sights is the Maiden's Tower, which dates to the 12th century. This key-shaped building has walls 5m (15ft) thick, and you can climb eight stories to the top for a view of the city and the bay. There are a few exhibits inside. Another outstanding site in the Inner City is the Palace of the Shirvan Shahs, dating from the 15th century, when the shahs moved their capital to Baku from Shamakhy. The domes and arches, mosaics and stonework are in beautiful shape, and there are a number of buildings to explore, including a mausoleum, a Turkish bath and the divan-khana or law courts. The complex is also the occasional venue for folk-dance performances. The most impressive museum is the Museum of Carpets & Applied Art in the old Lenin Museum. It has a brilliant display of woven and knotted Azerbaijani carpets, plus jewellery, embroidery, metalwork and carved wood. The Azerbaijani History Museum, a few blocks north-east of the Inner City, features an archaeology section with Stone Age petroglyphs and other relics from the site at Gobustan. The subway is cheap but gets crowded during rush hours. Taxis are available and it will be better to hire one with a meter.
The Atashgah Temple, also known as the Temple of the Fireworshippers, has been a centre of worship for thousands of years. The area is so saturated with natural gas and oil that flames spontaneously erupt from the ground - hence the country's other name, Odlar Yourdu, or 'Land of Fires,' and the name of the temple, which means 'home of fire.' Much of the existing structure has been built since the 17th century. Among the most interesting things to see at the temple are the ancient Sanskrit and Hindi inscriptions and the onion dome - signs that Atashgah and its fire worship were heavily influenced by India. Flames burn at each corner of the roof, fed by natural gas deposits under the ground. The temple, which is part of a larger complex of religious buildings, is located in the village of Surakhany, 20km (12mi) north-east of Baku.
Farther out on the Apsheron Peninsula, there are several fine medieval castles - one each at Ramana and Nardaran and two at Mardakyany - apparently built for defence by the Shirvan shahs in the 14th century. At Ramana you can also see the remains of ancient oil fields. Mardakyany also has a botanic garden and a 15th century mosque with an exhibit on the castles. There's a carpet factory in Nardaran.
Gobustan is an open-air museum littered with neolithic rock drawings. Just 65km (40mi) south of Baku, Gobustan has some 4000 inscriptions that go back 12,000 years (with some 2000 year old Latin graffiti to boot). Stone Age folks sporting loin cloths pose, hunt and boogie down. Their dances are thought to have been accompanied by the melodious strains of the Gaval-Dashy (Tambourine Stone) - a rock that has a deep, resonating tone when struck.
Off the Beaten Track
Kuba is 165km (105mi) north of Baku. Once the capital of a small khanate in the 18th century, its chief feature these days is that it's very photogenic, especially in spring when its many orchards are in bloom. You can have a look at the town's 16th century fortress and 19th century mosques and bathhouse.
This little town in the foothills of the Caucasus 130km (80mi) west of Baku was a major trading centre and the capital of the Shirvan shahs from the 6th century until they were moved to Baku. Many of the old royals are buried in the Eddi Gyumbez (Seven Cupolas) Mausoleum. Shemakha is also famous for carpets and wine. Despite centuries of earthquakes, several fine old buildings remain. Among them is the Djuma Mosque, dating from the 10th century
You can get in some fine hiking in the parks around Baku and on the Apsheron Peninsula. Taking the waters - soaking in medicinal mud, oil and hotsprings - is a popular pastime in Azerbaijan. Some of the best spas are in Kuba, Ganja-Naftalan and Nakhchivan. Over 350 species make for fine birdwatching, especially in the southeast lowlands south of Lenkoran
Azerbaijan is a small country located on the western shore of the Caspian Sea in the south-eastern part of the Greater Caucasus Mountains. The Lesser Caucasus stretch along the western border. Russia is on its north-eastern border, Georgia on the north-west; Armenia borders it to the west, Iran to the south and there's a 10km border with Turkey in the south-west. The Aras River runs along the southern border, flowing into the Kura River, which runs from the north-western mountains to the south-eastern coast, where it empties into the Caspian Sea. Oak, hornbeam, beech, ash and maple forests cover the lower slopes of the mountain ranges, and orange groves carpet the southern coastal lowlands. A large portion of the animal life is reptilian, though in the mountains, goats, deer, bear and wild boar are found. Azerbaijan has over 12,000 animal species, including 350 species of bird - 200 of which can be found in the Kizilagadj Reserve (in the Lenkoran lowlands). There are gazelles on the coastal plains and tigers and porcupines in the Talysh forests south of Lenkoran. Running the gamut of nine climatic zones, Azerbaijan's climate alternates between extremes in the northern and western mountains and pleasantly moderate along the Caspian Sea. Expect temperatures in the 20s and 30s C (70s and 80s F) through spring and summer (mid-April to October), and average temperatures of 5 to 10 C (40 to 50 F) from December to March.
When to Go
The best time to visit Azerbaijan is between April and October. It's warm and dry in much of the country, though in July and August it can be scorching (up to 38°C/100°F). It's much cooler and wetter in the winter, though it rains in the foothills from spring through early fall
Getting There & Away
Travellers from Europe have the best air access to Azerbaijan. There are flights between Baku and Frankfurt, Kiev, London, Amsterdam, Moscow, St Petersburg and Zurich several times a week. Most other flights serve cities in Russia and the Middle East, usually once a week. There's no departure tax. The train between Baku and Tibilisi, Georgia, is inexpensive, but it takes about 20 hours. The bus takes about half the time to get from Tibilisi to Baku; the fare is about the same. There are several buses a day running between Baku and Derbent, Russia, though the train is far more reliable. The two border crossings between Azerbaijan and Iran that foreigners can use are between Jolfa, Iran, which will put you in the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic, and Julfa, Azerbaijan; and between Astara, Iran, and Astara, Azerbaijan, which is near the Caspian coast and much closer to Baku. A bus runs between Tehran and Baku (via Astara) daily.
By sea, you can catch one of the freighters running between Baku and Turkmenbashi, Turkmenistan, though the schedule depends totally on what's to be taken and when it can be loaded. On average, there are three sailings a week, but the exact date and time of departure are known until shortly beforehand. Each boat takes 300 passengers on the 12 hour voyage. The price for foreigners is around US$100 per passenger. There are passenger-cum-cargo boats sailing between Baku and Bandar-é Anzali and Noshahr, Iran, about every other week. The fare is around US$100.
The bus is the best way of getting around Azerbaijan. It's actually faster than the train, and it tends to be much safer. Buses connect Baku and most of the main towns. You'll need an international driver's licence; driving is on the right.
The best way to get around Baku is by taxi. There's a subway system in Baku.
Courtesy---ECO Cultural Institute (ECI), Tehran
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